Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

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Will W.
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Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Will W. » 23:53 Wed 30 Oct 2019

Picking up the cellar-defender thread which appeared at The Port Forum in July 2019, it might be of interest to some readers to set out, from time to time, the impressions of members upon consuming inexpensive ports sold without selos or, for that matter, without labels.

By way of a start:

A 1978 colheita produced at a property adjacent to Quinta Dona Matilde

Somewhat unusually – at least in my limited experience - this wine was offered for sale by the litre; upon agreeing to purchase fifteen litres after a chance to try it, I asked that it be bottled and sent to my office. About a week later, the package arrived so tightly packaged that I had trouble cutting through the tape and cardboard to get at the contents, which (to my amusement) consisted of a rather eclectic collection of twenty port and still-wine bottles of various shapes. The total cost worked out to roughly EUR 17 per bottle.

Over the last four months, or thereabouts, I have consumed four bottles of this particular cellar defender; and, as one might imagine, there is no bottle variation (beyond the aforementioned shapes) of which to tell.

The appearance of the wine in the glass is of the first order, showing the unmistakeable hues of Douro bake, to a degree consistent with the reported age, and a hint of lime on the rim. The nose is well pronounced, with caramel, citrus and raspberry all in evidence. The port hits the palate gently, with spices and the aforementioned citrus being particularly noticeable. As might be imagined, a lesser-quality aguardiente was evidently used in its production; whilst neither overpowering nor unpleasant, the spirits are certainly in evidence. The slight downside of this well-balanced wine, insofar as there is one relative to the price paid, is a rather clipped finish. The only bottle scored to date was afforded 89 points by consensus at a group tasting.

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AHB
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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by AHB » 16:17 Thu 31 Oct 2019

Will,

That's a really interesting story and made me think about the handful of times when I've consumed a bottle which did not have a sello attached.

Only at Quinta de la Rosa was I allowed to buy bottles to bring home - but then only because I was buying them from the restaurant and "forgot to open them" so brought them home with me. But they were expensive and in no way could be considered to be cellar defenders.

I've also consumed Port stored in barrels at a quinta or lodge, but never been allowed to buy any to bring home. Family reserves, aging stocks and unregistered wines fall into this category but they only count as cellar defenders if I'm in Portugal and nowhere near my own cellar!

You are very fortunate to have found a producer willing and able to share some of his family reserve wines with you.
Top Ports in 2019: Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
Top Ports in 2020 (so far): Croft 1945 and Niepoort VV (1960s bottling)

Glenn E.
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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Glenn E. » 20:16 Sun 10 Nov 2019

The few bottles that I have been able to purchase without Selos are in no way cellar defenders - they have all be very old tawny Ports, often bottles straight from cask, that I will cherish and savor at significant occasions.

I would say that it is very unusual to be able to purchase a "younger" Port like this in volume. It sounds like a very nice Port!
Glenn Elliott

Will W.
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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Will W. » 00:01 Tue 03 Dec 2019

There is a popular website in Portugal named CustoJusto (www.custojusto.pt) at which the Portuguese, as is their wont, advertise for sale all manner of goods, most of them rubbish. Stated succinctly, CustoJusto is a down-market, cyber, car boot sale, the one redeeming feature of which is a section devoted to wines and gastronomy. For those with sufficient reserves of patience to wade through the general tendency of CustoJusto advertisers towards the ludicrous over-pricing of indifferent bottles which have spent the past half century displayed on Grandmother’s sideboard, the occasional treat makes itself apparent. The colheita reviewed here fell into the latter category, leading about three years ago to the purchase by your correspondent of twelve or fifteen bottles thereof after an initial sample suggested that a larger purchase was in order. With the original consignment of this “cellar defender” – with apologies to Mr Tawny for the persistent use of such slander in the current context – nearing its end, it seemed at the weekend just past that the preparation of a tasting note would be warranted.

Additional regrets are in order for, when the bottles were purchased, your correspondent failed to take note of precisely where in the Douro the wine had been produced. (The personal assistant more immediately responsible for this oversight was subsequently sacked, though in fairness for wholly unrelated reasons.) Whilst all of the bottles do (and did) bear labels, these offer only the somewhat unusual name of “DA’Quinta” along with a suggestion that the region of origin is the Alto Douro. Additionally, the harvest of 1976 is cited, along with a bottling year of 2014.

On the eye, this colheita presented in a manner redolent of medium-strength, breakfast tea, albeit with a hint of cloudiness along with a tinge of yellow on the rim. There was no evidence of Douro bake in the colour, which would otherwise have been expected of a quinta-aged tawny of such maturity; one suspects strongly that a healthy dose of white grapes was added to the blend, either at the point of production or, perhaps, when the wine was bottled. If correct, this theory would explain the peculiarities in the colour as well as on the nose and mouth of this colheita. Whatever the reason, the said nose was quite pronounced, leaving the impression of honeydew or, if one prefers, spring flowers in a damp field. On entry, the palate was confronted by sweet lemon cordial, giving way to a lingering zest as well as pepper and vanilla. After the initial glass, notes of brown sugar of the sort commonly found in older tawnies fought their way onto the taste buds, suggesting a degree of sweetness which would have been difficult to countenance absent the aforementioned tartness. In principle, the sensations ought to have been incongruous; in the event, they worked surprisingly well together, making for a rather unique tasting experience. The medium-long finish afforded a further opportunity to ponder this highly unusual albeit pleasing colheita which, if memory serves, was priced somewhere in the region of EUR 15 a bottle. Whether the addition of white grapes - if white grapes were indeed added to the red - amounted to the act of a visionary in 1976, or that of a grifter in 2014, matters not at that price.

91.5 points (tasted 31 November 2019)

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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by AHB » 20:00 Tue 03 Dec 2019

Is there any chance of a photo of a label to accompany this wonderful description of a wine we are unlikely to taste?
Top Ports in 2019: Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
Top Ports in 2020 (so far): Croft 1945 and Niepoort VV (1960s bottling)

Will W.
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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Will W. » 22:43 Tue 03 Dec 2019

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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by AHB » 13:41 Wed 04 Dec 2019

I love it! Judging by all the standards but one, it is clearly a fake.

The one standard which redeems it, is that it was properly and fairly priced for what it claims to be.
Top Ports in 2019: Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
Top Ports in 2020 (so far): Croft 1945 and Niepoort VV (1960s bottling)

Will W.
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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Will W. » 18:30 Wed 04 Dec 2019

How do you mean "fake," Alex?

My thinking on the fly is this:

The label is homemade nonsense, though such (poor) quality is hardly unusual in the unregulated (by the IVDP) market in Portugal. The question is whether the contents are what the label claims, which is something that I most certainly am not in a position to judge with anything approaching precision - despite having guzzled an awful lot of tawny over the last three or four years, to the detriment of my pocketbook. I suppose that another question would be this: if one was bottling a tawny that was younger than the year claimed on the label, why pick 1976 as the year of production? It could be the arbitrary choice of an idiot attempting to fool other idiots (e.g., me). It would presumably not be the act of a forger with some knowledge of those years which would be more appealing to the occasional port drinker. For instance, the bottler could just as readily have put, say, 1977 on the label. In opting for 1976, he could in principle have been targeting fans of the 1976 Krohn colheita, though such aficionados would, as a general rule, not be wasting their time perusing the wine offerings on custojusto.pt. It may - just may - be that the contents are what is claimed on the label, that is, the product of a farmer (or his heirs) trying to turn an old barrel or two into a few bucks.

My point is that there are a range of possibilities in cases such as these and, indeed, chicanery can rarely be ruled out entirely. As you grasp, the fun lies in taking a punt that something drinkable, with a few years on it, might be had for a few shekels.

Will W.
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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Will W. » 22:39 Mon 18 May 2020

1985 Casal Janeiro

By Western-European standards, Portugal remains a poor country. Perhaps as a consequence, it features a great many auctions houses selling rubbish from the homes of Aunts Maria, Ana and Ines after they pass to their eternal reward whilst their heirs focus on tearing one another apart squabbling over immovable property. Invariably, an older colheita or two turn up in the estates; these are peddled with the rest of the junk or, more often, separated for sale through dedicated wines and spirits auctions. The problem with purchasing these colheitas is obvious: their provenance is unknown. Or rather, their provenance might be guessed at with a fair degree of certainty: they were sat for years atop lace doilies within glass-doored china cupboards situated within modest residences bereft of temperature control as the term has come to be understood over, say, the last half century. Stranger still is the propensity of the handful of Portuguese with the resources to spend significant money on fortified wine to pay through the nose for the privilege of owning such bottles. Perhaps they want likewise to put the unconsumed contents on display atop doilies in their own china cabinets.

In fairness, when proceeding with a great deal of care one can find decent port – particularly vintage port – at passable prices at Portuguese auctions. The best deals, however, are to be found where one is prepared to stray into the realm of so-called garrafeiras particulares (GPs); that is, wines which have not been approved for sale by the relevant State regulatory body. The average Portuguese, whilst invariably modest by nature, is nonetheless very keen on labels with a touch of prestige. By way of example, Krohn colheitas and Taylor vintage ports command outrageous prices. Were the Quinta do Noval label affixed to Christian Seely’s dirty bathwater, it would sell in Portugal. I hasten to add that nobody would be so daft as to drink it; rather, an especially nice doily would be found upon which to display the prized bottle.

There is no prestige accompanying ownership of GPs; and accordingly, they cost – by prevailing standards for IVDP-approved tawnies – next to nothing. Granted, one can never be entirely certain about what one is getting, and it is never unwise to make allowance for a measure of chicanery when it comes to the years affixed to colheitas in the bottle or in the barrel. However, it is difficult to fake quality, particularly where the latter is of an agreeable standard. The 1985 Casal Janeiro most certainly falls into the latter category.

According to the label, the wine was produced and bottled by Alberto Janeiro and sons, who are (or were - again, according to the label) based in Gouveia-Alfandega da Fe – Gouveia being a hamlet situated in the Upper Douro about thirty kilometres north of Quinta do Vale Meao. One of the Lisbon auction houses specialising in the disposal of familial rubbish, with the occasional bottle auction thrown into the docket, sold three or four dozen bottles of this wine in multi-bottle lots two or three years ago. One day, whilst at the auction house to pick up some still wines, I noticed the large pile of Casa Janeiro and asked the auctioneer whether it was any good. (Here, I hasten to note that I failed to inquire whence he had acquired it.) In response, I was told that “a wine drinker” had indicated that the Casa Janeiro was “not bad;” and, after taking a bottle then and there to try at home, I soon confirmed the impression of the said “wine drinker,” proceeding in turn to purchase about two dozen bottles in small lots over time, at about EUR 11 per bottle.

It is difficult to say how long this wine has been in the bottle; a very rough guess would suggest somewhere in the area of fifteen years or even a touch longer. In the glass, the wine brought together a dark amber hue with evidence of Douro bake, the contents being crowned by a yellow rim. The olfactory nerve was treated to a rich tapestry consisting of black honey, pine resin, raw coffee beans, vanilla extract, lemon citrus and, hinting that it was not yet tired, lilac flowers. The mouth was better still, with wild blueberries and pine striking the fore-palate, giving way to orange rind and coffee at the mid-point. Unresolved tannins made an appearance at the back, where the “old pharmacy” metaphor favoured by the port connoisseurs of northern Europe seemed particularly apt. The long finish, dominated by citrus and cloves, warmed nicely the innards from the stomach northwards, right through the sinuses. This is a dry port and nicely balanced; given what I believe to be the substantial bottle time for a colheita, my guess is that the acidity has survived over the longer haul by virtue of the fact that the port appears not to have been filtered prior to bottling.

Is it a 1985? Who knows? Is it a blend of various years? This is possible. Does it matter given the quality and the price? It does not. Am I able to find more? A trip to the professed producer sits near the top of my Douro to-do list.

-92 points
Last edited by Will W. on 13:31 Tue 19 May 2020, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by AHB » 23:18 Mon 18 May 2020

Another wonderful story to accompany a very entertaining tasting note. Thank you Will!
Top Ports in 2019: Niepoort VV (1960s bottling) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
Top Ports in 2020 (so far): Croft 1945 and Niepoort VV (1960s bottling)

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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by jdaw1 » 23:21 Mon 18 May 2020

A fantastic post, which should itself be displayed atop a doily of the finest nature.

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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by nac » 12:22 Tue 19 May 2020

jdaw1 wrote:
23:21 Mon 18 May 2020
A fantastic post, which should itself be displayed atop a doily of the finest nature.
Custom-made TPF doilies maybe?

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Re: Cellar Defenders without Selos or Labels

Post by Doggett » 12:29 Tue 19 May 2020

nac wrote:
12:22 Tue 19 May 2020
jdaw1 wrote:
23:21 Mon 18 May 2020
A fantastic post, which should itself be displayed atop a doily of the finest nature.
Custom-made TPF doilies maybe?
I thought that’s what Julian’s placemats already were!?

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